Rashbam: Walking With God (Bechukotai)

The final parashah of Leviticus, Bechukotai, includes a beautiful list of blessings, followed by a terrifying account of curses. At the heart of the matter is living a life in alignment with the Holy One.

As the curses escalate, the text persistently pauses with variations of “and if you still don’t listen…,” introducing yet another ramping up of consequences. At one such pause (Leviticus 26:21), the wording becomes unusual. The New Jewish Publication Society translates, “And if you remain hostile toward Me and refuse to obey me…”

The literal Hebrew words suggest a different image. “And if you walk with me keri…” No one really knows what keri means here, but the phrase points us towards some manner of walking with God that fails to meet God’s expectations. We know from other biblical sources that walking with God is a primary metaphor for living in alignment with godly values such as justice and humility.

The great medieval commentator Rashi suggests keri means either “coincidentally” or “holding back”. In other words, the problem is that the God-walking, even when it happens, is not fully committed to but rather a partial or random event.

Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson, understands the full phrase to mean, “If you will walk with Me in a haphazard manner, not with consistency, [i.e. if you behave] like a person who is not involved with the Creator in a consistent way.” (Translation Martin Lockshin)

Sometimes we do not need to be actively hostile to fail to live up to our relationships, our projects, or our values. Simply being unfocused and inconsistent will do the trick.

When have you felt scattered, inconsistent, or not fully invested in something that mattered to you? When has inconsistency actually been helpful to you? How do you cultivate concentration in an over-saturated and hyper-active world?

For more about Rashbam, see my introduction.